AS A SILHOUETTIST it’s an odd feeling to have a son working as a wedding photographer. Odd, because silhouettes and photography have a close and fascinating historic relationship (more on this below).
Nicholas has long been interested in photography and is now midway through an art degree in the subject. It’s his second degree, taken as a mature student.
Last summer, in August 2022, his ex-boss booked him as the photographer for her wedding. Learning about the silhouettes his father makes, she then also booked me for the same event! It seemed to us that fate had presented us with a rare opportunity for a unique artistic collaboration.
A Military Wedding
As the groom is a sergeant in the Irish Guards, currently posted at the Household Division HQ, the wedding took place in The Royal Military Chapel at Wellington Barracks. It was a formal occasion with about 100 guests, so Nicholas had his first experience of marshalling them all for a series of formal, group photographs after the service. Afterwards he went for a walk with the bride and groom in St James’s Park to take a series of informal and romantic photographs.
While all this was going on I began cutting silhouettes, which I continued doing as they all moved to a mess hall for the wedding breakfast.
When the bride and groom returned to join the party (with the groom now in civilian clothes) I cut their silhouettes just before the entered the dining hall.
So far, so usual, for me at any rate.
For Nicholas, the real work had only just begun; after the event came post production.
For me, post production was a simple matter of scanning all my white duplicate silhouettes and passing them to Nicholas.
Meanwhile Nicholas embarked on the process (which I guess all new wedding photographers need to go through) of finding a supplier to make a photo album, liaising with the client over the cost of this and leaning to use the supplier’s software to lay out and edit the album. This, on top of sorting several thousand photographs into good, bad and indifferent, before going on to edit the good ones.
Finally, he combined the best photographs – chosen together with the client – with my set of silhouettes and set about designing his first wedding album.
Working alongside the punishing schedule of his degree course, all this took time. But the album was finally produced earlier this year.
An Album of Photographs and Silhouettes
The finished album is beautiful and was rightly (in my view) greeted with cries of joy by the client.
The album features several pages combined silhouettes and photography. Nicholas’ approach was (as far as possible) to show photographs of the party guests alongside their silhouettes. He also included the silhouettes of the bride and groom I cut as part of the title page for the album.
As far as we know this is a new and unique approach towards event reportage, which has not been tried by any photographer before (and almost certainly not by a silhouettist)
Looking Back: a fascinating history
You will often hear silhouette cutting described as a “lost art”. I’ve made it my business to revive that art and I hope to leave it a little less lost than I found it. However, I have in mind that the reason it got lost in the first place was entirely due to photography.
The heyday of silhouettes is generally considered to have ended in the mid-nineteenth century. This is when photography was invented and many silhouettists went out of business almost immediately. They were unable to compete with the new photography studios, which clearly did a far better job of capturing family likenesses than a silhouettist ever could. A few clung for a decade or so, competing on price and (oddly) speed, but by 1860 there were none left. The technology of photography underwent rapid technological progress, shortening posing times together with both increasing quality and decreasing prices. As it did so, the silhouettists simply vanished.
Many, seeing the writing on the wall, put away their scissors and silhouettes machines and bought cameras instead, becoming some of the earliest photographers. Others changed their business models more slowly, adding photography to their existing repertoire and turning themselves into odd Photographer-Silhouettists.
Nicholas’ album seems to me like a new take on the Photographer-Silhouettist approach. With his client’s permission we printed a second copy of the album, so as to have one to show other people. This was on show at my recent open-studio event and everybody who saw it agreed it was an interesting and unique object.
Going forward, we would like to look for other events where such an approach might work, whether weddings or other events. Plans include presenting the album at a wedding fayre and writing about it in other media (such as this blog). If you have any thoughts about this we’d love to hear them.
All wedding photographs courtesy of Nicholas Burns and his client